Several years ago, our family switched to a whole-food plant based diet- for health reasons and to reduce our carbon footprint. Since then, I have come a long way and realized that there is more to a balanced diet then eating minimally refined plant products. Knowing how to prepare foods is one of the most essential parts of a healthy diet. In addition, there are a few important facts about nutrients that should be taken in consideration as well.
So here it is, the CORE, the foundation,
of what seems to be a healthy and sustainable diet:
- Whole-food plant-based: minimally or non refined/ processed food
- Stick to local, seasonal foods
- Use organic foods as much as you can (at least try to buy the “dirty dozen” organic, se more here )
- Fermented foods like long fermented sourdough bread (long fermentation process allows bacteria to fully break down the carbohydrates and gluten in bread, making it easier to digest and releasing the nutrients within it, allowing our bodies to more easily absorb them), homemade yogurt with live cultures, homemade kombucha (lets you control the sugar content, store bought kombucha often contains more sugar than is needed), pickled vegetables, miso etc (healthy gut bacteria means strong immune system)
- Activate grains, nuts, seeds and legumes (read more about activation and phytic acid ). Traditional societies knew that grains, beans, nuts, & seeds are full of anti-nutrients and are extremely difficult to digest unless prepared properly. By preparing grains properly, you are basically breaking down the grain prior to ingesting it. This preparation tells the grain that it’s okay to open up and release phytase, which is the enzyme that breaks down phytic acid. The nutritional quality of the grain increases and your body is able to take all that nutrition and avoid any tummy trouble.
- Eat raw vegetables as well as cooked ones (some vegetables need to be cooked in order to make them more nutritious like spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, kale etc)
- Eat a large variety of food, especially legumes and dark leafy greens, avoid e.g. too many unfermented soy products (soy milk, tofu, edamame)
- Enjoy superfoods like bee pollen, manuka honey, spirulina, maca, raw cacao, acai… as they are extremely nutrient dense
- Substitute only what’s necessary: Vitamin B12, Vitamin D when not exposed to enough sunlight, high doses of liposomal Vitamin C of you feel that you are coming down with a cold
- Use natural remedies if possible (turmeric is an extremely potent anti inflammatory, cinnamon has anti inflammatory properties, ginger is a natural remedy for nausea
A few important notes on the side:
- Make sure you and –especially– your children get enough lysine ( an essential amino acid) which is found in legumes, bee pollen, parmesan and and eggs- that’s why the occasional egg as well as some parmesan on pasta is not just tasty but might be very nutritious for little ones)
- Flour: industrial metal- ground flour gets very hot during the milling process, which kills phytase, the enzyme that deactivates phytic acid (which in turn binds to important minerals like calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron). Also, the fresher the flour, the more phytase it contains. The best flour is freshly milled stone ground flour (it does pay off to get your own mill which are not that pricey and you can buy organic/ sustainable flour in bulk and mill it freshly). When flour is not activated, sift about 50% of it and remove the bran which considerably lowers the amount of phytic acid in the flour. When making pancakes, soak the flour overnight in the milk and add a tbsp of whey or live yogurt.
- Oats: oats are extremely hard to activate and put a lot of stress on the digestive system when eaten raw. Even cooking doesn’t reduce the amount of phytase much. Throw in whatever you have: Buy groats, soak them for 48 hours in warm water together with a bit of rye flour (high in phytase) and a tbsp of live yogurt or whey,then dry them (oven or dehydrator) and press into rolled oats or grind into steel cut oats. Cook the oats before consuming them.
- If you cannot activate foods (eating our, moving, holidays etc) stick to low phytase grains (white rice, sushi rice, white flour). These foods have been pretty much emptied of nutrients but contain very little phytase which lets you absorb at least the minerals form other foods that you eat. The worst thing to do is to include whole grain products in your daily diet which have not been activated properly (brown rice, whole wheat flour, etc). Phytic acid will snatch up any available nutrients it can find. It will even steal nutrients from other food currently in your digestive tract. Eventually, this will leave you mineral deficient with lots of health issues. Sticking to refined products on the other hand will also lead to nutrient deficiency over time, because these products have been stripped off their nutrients.
- Gluten: gluten is not the “bad guy” and very few people are actually gluten intolerant. the key to proper digestion of gluten is -once again– the preparation of food. The breads we find on the shelves of supermarkets nowadays ore only meant to last long and cost little. If you avoid gluten, you miss out on a lot of nutritious and important foods like rye, wheat and barley. These grains are rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. Sourdough bread needs to be fermented until the gluten within it is degraded.
A few health issues that are diet related:
- If you would like to loose weight, stick to the above diet and swap more carbohydrates (pasta, grains) with vegetables and legumes. You will loose weight automatically, in a healthy and sustainable way. eat as much as you want, don’t deprive yourself, simpy choose the right foods.
- A lot of typical “Western diseases” (high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol etc) can be tackled with the right lifestyle: stick to the above diet, exercise moderately, reduce stress and meditate, be mindful. If you are taking medication, tell your doctor about your lifestyle change and be supervised. Medication should only be reduced or faded out in agreement with your doctor.
- Autoimmune diseases: Strengthen your immune system with the above diet. Lots of “gut friendly” foods.
- Sick often? Strengthen your immune system with the above diet. Lots of “gut friendly” foods.
- Chronic inflammation like arthritis: avoid acidic foods (animal foods) and stick to alkaline foods (plant-based foods), use potent natural remedies like turmeric and ginger (see turmeric latte recipe), green tea, cherries& berries& grapes (all rich in anthocyanins) etc.
- Cardiovascular disease? Reverse heart disease with the above diet but avoid oils, nuts and seeds (read more here http://www.dresselstyn.com/site/)
- ADD and ADHD: feed your child the above diet, which will lead to a stable blood sugar level, activate foods to avoid zinc deficiencies which are associated with neurological symptoms.
Last but not least a few words on sustainability and our food choices. Raising and eating livestock and harvesting fish is the single largest contributing factor for global depletion. It is responsible for:
- inefficient agricultural land use
- depletion of our oceans
- climate change
- increased risk of the four most common diseases in the and five most common cancers in the western world
- increased health care costs and loss of productivity
- depletion and use of freshwater
- loss of biodiversity
- prevalence of world hunger
(great summary from the book “Food Choice and Sustainability” by Dr. Richard Oppenlander)
So ask yourself this simple question:
“Is the food I´m about to eat in the best interest of all living things?”